Tuesday, September 30, 2008

IBBY Conference

In early September, I attended the IBBY conference in Copenhagen. To be honest, I was disappointed by this conference, though on paper it sounded really interesting (not to mention the fact that the social events, such as dinner at Tivoli and a buffet at Copenhagen’s city hall, were fun).

IBBY is the International Board on Books for Young People, with chapters in 72 countries. Every two years, it has a large conference, at which there are many presentations, and the H.C. Andersen Prize is awarded to one living author and one living illustrator (this year, Queen Margrethe of Denmark gave the prizes to the winners, Swiss author Jürg Schubiger and Italian illustrator Roberto Innocenti), and the IBBY Honour List of good books and translations for children is announced, and the IBBY-Asahi Awards for reading promotion are presented (this year to Editions Bakame of Rwanda and Action with Lao Children). Incidentally, regarding the H.C. Andersen award nominees, as I was reading through the detailed list, which was given in Bookbird magazine, I was surprised, and a little frustrated, to see that a not insignificant number of writers felt that writing for children was easier than writing for adults. I would definitely disagree with that.

One of the keynote speeches was by a Norwegian woman (note: not a Jewish Norwegian) who wrote children's books based on her own experience as a Norwegian child during the German invasion in Norway in WW2 and another keynote speech was by a Danish writer, who had published children's books based on her mother's experiences during the war (her mother was Jewish and left Hungary for Denmark, but the author herself was baptized and raised Lutheran). Another speaker, who presented children’s books on the Holocaust, was criticized for not discussing Palestinians, even though that was not her area of expertise and there was not enough time to discuss every possible issue. Also, there was a keynote speaker who discussed Palestinian children’s books. So something that made the conference leave a bad taste in my mouth, so to speak, was that quite a few people complained about all this attention being paid to Jews at the conference. That an academic conference – especially one on children’s literature, which should be a field that is open and accepting – is expected to be politically correct is not news to me, but it is disappointing.

The next post will discuss more on ideology and children’s literature.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Lovely Tree

Not long ago, I read Ett Träd Med Vida Grenar: De Indoeuropeiska Språkens Historia by Ola Wikander. In case you don’t know Swedish, the title is A Tree with Wide Branches: A History of the Indoeuropean Languages. And in fact, the only problem with this book is that as of now, it’s only in Swedish. I hope it will be available to readers in other countries soon, as it is quite interesting.

Mr. Wikander is a young Ph.D. student and translator in Sweden who is already the author of several books on “dead” languages, as well as co-author, with his father, of a novel. In this book, he discusses the science of reconstructing what is called proto-Indoeuropean (PIE), or the language from which stem all the Indoeuropean languages, including Swedish, English, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Romanian, and many more. The purpose of this field, as he thoroughly explains in his book, is not just to reconstruct this language for the fun of it (although he includes some examples of writing people have attempted to do in PIE in modern times), but is in part to understand the cultures and languages that have helped shape Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world.

Mr. Wikander is a talented writer who manages at times to make this science seem like a mystery, in that it is exciting to learn about how the reconstruction work is done and how Indoeuropeanists can use the reconstructed vocabulary, and other evidence, such as archaeology, come to conclusions about where those who spoke PIE lived (probably the south Russian steppes) and what their culture was like.

If you can read Swedish, I recommend this book and also Mr. Wikander’s
blog. If not, you’ll have to wait for a translation!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Speaking of Punctuation…

Well, after reading Alfie the Apostrophe, I was in the mood for more punctuation. So I was glad Erika Dreifus sent me this article.

And further speaking of punctuation, what punctuation mark are you? I’m a colon! Take this
silly quiz to find out.

Here’s what the quiz says about me and all the other colons out there:

You Are a Colon

You are very orderly and fact driven.

You aren't concerned much with theories or dreams... only what's true or untrue.

You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched.

You like to make lists and sort through things step by step. You aren't subject to whim or emotions.

Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice.

(But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!)

You excel in: Leadership positions

You get along best with: The Semi-Colon

Friday, September 19, 2008

Alfie the Apostrophe

A friend of mine who works at a library and knows about my love for punctuation, especially apostrophes, and my interest in children’s literature recently bought me a children’s book as a present. Called Alfie the Apostrophe, it is by Moira Rose Donohue and illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi.

Little Alfie is in a talent show and he wonders how he can possibly compete with the exclamation points and question marks and commas (some wonder if he isn’t just an upside-down comma himself!) and the rest of the gang. You’ll have to read the book to see if Alfie the Apostrophe’s magic show wins him first place!

A fun book for any children and/or punctuation-fans you may know!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Just In Case...

Just in case any of you happen to be in Stockholm tomorrow and have a couple of free hours in the afternoon, come hear a guest lecture by yours truly at Stockholm University. Here are the details:

Child’s Play: Translating Figurative Language in Children’s Literature

B. J. Epstein, Swansea University, UK


What is figurative language? Why do authors use it in their work? How can translators translate such language? And are the answers to any of these questions different when it comes to children’s literature?

In this presentation, B.J. Epstein will use her research into the translation of children’s literature to analyse what figurative language is and how it can be translated. She will discuss a dozen translatorial strategies and will employ a variety of English source texts and their Swedish translations to exemplify how these strategies work (or don’t).

The presentation will be given in English, but examples will be based on translations from English to Swedish.

The lecture will be between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on 19 September, at F 220 i F-huset, Södra huset, Frescati, Stockholms universitet (i.e. at the Frescati campus in F House, room 220).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

2008 Literary Translation Prizes and the 2008 Sebald Lecture

On 29 September at 8 p.m., there will be the presentation of the 2008 Literary Translation Prizes followed by the 2008 Sebald Lecture, given by novelist Louis de Bernières (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, among other books). This event will take place at the Southbank Centre and tickets cost £10. If you get there at 6.30 p.m., you can hear readings from the prize-winners.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A Problematic Lingua Franca

We all know that English has become the world’s lingua franca (now that’s a phrase that needs updating!). But sometimes having English as a common language can be a bad thing, or at least a problematic thing.

For example, as Yann Foucault has
pointed out, translation can help expand both the target language and whatever topic the text is on.

Also, using tongues other than English can create a sense of regional identity. Read this
piece on using English in the Nordic countries. In the Nordic region, is it better to use English as the common tongue or to insist on interpretation and translation?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How to Get Grants

An article I wrote recently on how to get grants has been published in the Funds for Writers newsletters. I am posting it here as well.

How to Get Grants
B.J. Epstein

In the past year alone, I’ve been the recipient of 16 different grants. Eleven of these were on behalf of a major international conference I organized and five were for me individually. Of those five, one was a grant for my academic research on the translation of children’s literature, two were for my writing (one of those two paid half of the costs for me to attend a writing workshop), one helped pay for me to attend a conference, and the most recent one is to support my work translating a novel from Swedish to English. In this same year, I applied for two other grants that I did not receive; the rejection letter for one explained that the foundation preferred to support people further along in their doctoral studies and encouraged me to apply again next year. This means that out of approximately 18 applications/requests (it is possible that I may be forgetting something here), I had a success rate of close to 90%. The total sum of these grants was over $30,000.
So how have I been so successful? What are my tips for getting grants? Here, I will give you the secret to my success.

-Research is the first step. This is the same advice I’d give if you were, say, looking to query a publication or apply to an MFA program. You should carefully study any information the foundation or other grant-giving body provides, whether it is just a blurb in a newsletter or a multi-paged, detailed website. You must understand what the foundation is looking for and whether you fit the profile, so you don’t waste both your time and theirs. If you are unsure, call or email them and tell them a little bit about yourself and your project and see if they think you should apply. If you do contact them, don’t take up too much of their time. There are reference books on grants at many libraries and bookstores and helpful newsletters and websites, so use these resources, too.

-Apply for any grant that is even slightly relevant, no matter how small the amount of money they offer is. Remember that each grant you receive helps you get the next one by showing other potential sponsors that people already believe in you. Also, of course, even small sums matter, especially for struggling writers. The smallest sum I received was $100 but it still made a difference to me and it helped build the “grants received” section of my CV.

-Write excellent letters/essays. Here again is where the research comes in; refer to the foundation or organization in particular and explain why what you are doing fits in with their goals and how it will benefit them to support you. Do not just explain why and how they can help you. They already know you are looking for money and they are surely inundated with letters from people like you. State what you can do for them. If it is a foundation that focuses on supporting writers from a certain region, discuss your connection to that region and how your work is inspired by it. If you are applying for a grant and you know your project is a bit different from what they usually choose to sponsor, make sure you tell them why you felt it was worthwhile to apply anyway and why your project relates to their foundation. Do not send a form letter for every grant you apply for. You must personalize each application by referring to the particular foundation and their objective.

-In your application pack, include all the information they ask for. Do not send anything they don’t really need, as that just creates more work for them. Don’t try to impress them with extra reference letters or by sending many samples of your work. Similarly, don’t send them less than they ask for, as they can not thoroughly judge you then. Follow the instructions precisely or you will end up overwhelming and/or annoying them.

-Check the grammar and spelling of everything you send. Remember that if a foundation receives a letter riddled with misspellings and odd grammar, they will not feel confidence in your writing skills and they will be glad to have a reason to swiftly reject you rather than have to spend time reading your application.

-Always be polite in your dealings with the foundation. Sounds obvious, right? Well, I have had to deal with secretaries of foundations who spelled my name wrong or addressed me as Mr. (I am a Ms.), but I always politely correct them, or just let it go, rather than write a rude email such as, “My name is clearly spelled in my signature! How hard is it to get it right?” I have also had meetings, such as on behalf of the conference, with people who were clearly unsure about me and whether I could pull off the project. Sometimes such people made harsh comments that hurt my feelings. I always stayed calm and polite and just explained again who I was and what I could do for them. Offending people is a sure way of not getting the grant.

-If you need letters of reference, ask the referees early (i.e. weeks before the application is due) and give them all the information they need. Give them the name and address for where they should send their letters. Provide letters and stamps if snail mail is required. Tell them all about the foundation and why you think this grant suits you. Give them the latest copy of your CV, your list of publications, writing samples, and anything else that is appropriate, so they have enough information about you to write a good letter. One of my grants came from a foundation in Sweden. None of my referees knew Swedish, so they could not read the website that offered information on how the letters were to be written and what issues should be addressed in them. Therefore, I translated all the relevant details for my referees. I was later told how helpful this was. Make the process of writing letters as easy for your referees as possible.

Following the steps above should help you as you apply for grants. But writing a great letter and being polite is not all that you need to do. Here are a few final tips for after you’ve submitted your application:

-Here’s another obvious point. Thank your referees and anyone else who has helped you as you applied. For one application, the administrator actually took the time to let me know that one of my references hadn’t arrived and since the reference was coming abroad, she offered to accept the letter by e-mail for the time being. The letter did eventually arrive, but the fact that she both let me know and helped me find a solution to the problem was something I definitely thanked her for. It’s good manners to be grateful to anyone who goes out of their way for you.

-If you do not get a grant and no reason has been given, whether in the letter to you or else on their websites (such as in the form of a press release about what projects they have supported and why or in statistics), write to the administrators and ask if they can tell you why. Say that you would like to know so you can make your application stronger for the next time. Whether they give you this information or not, if you do apply again, clearly state both that you have applied before and that you have developed since your last application. Then say what you have done differently and/or what is new with your project since you last applied.

-Add all the grants you’ve received to your CV and your website. As I said above, the knowledge that others have sponsored and believed in you often can have a domino effect that makes additional foundations look at you differently.

- Many foundations require a detailed report of what you did, sample work finished during the time of the grant, and complete budgets for how you spent the money. Keep careful track of all the money you have spent. Get receipts and have a running spreadsheet for the period of your project. Depending on the grant, different things count: if you bought a pen or a notebook or an ink cartridge for your printer, if you traveled by train to a workshop, if you bought groceries, workshop fees, if you took time off work, etc. Be very clear in advance about what you can use the money for. Provide the foundation with the complete budget and report and anything else they want to see by the deadline they give you.

I hope this advice will help you successfully apply for more grants!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Yay, 78!

Brave New Words is at 78 in a list of the top 100 language blogs on the web. See the list on the Lexiophiles website for more interesting sites to visit.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Chinglish: Leaving Values Far Behind

Shanghai was an interesting choice of location for the FIT conference. I must say that China does not seem to be a country that places much emphasis on professional translations.

One of my particular interests is
bad menu translations. Here are a few of the items I saw in China:

beef pulls noodle

frying without adding anything shrimp

sheet iron Germany salty pig's hoof

liquor rice with mini-bums

the seafood is harsh

cowboy bone

fried how delicious crab

vegetarian ham

the tea tree mushroom roasts the winter bamboo shoot

syrup carbon fever pork

social beef

marinated three white

vermicille with wild fangs

soft-shelled turtled cooks ox whip

peaceful is big prawn

characteristic fish gluten

crab ovary

the chinese flowering quince the clam gentlemen frog

sichuan taste gluttonous frog

crosses the bridge spare ribs

pot pan

sandwich calcium cake

fragrant tasty entry

best tasty

high fly pizza

crystal-like cake

On tour buses, I repeatedly heard “Don’t leave your values on the bus.” And I saw the motto “We service you whole-heartedly” throughout the country. I just wonder if that whole-hearted service really extends to translation. I think many people in China left their translation skills on the bus.